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Costas Lapavitsas: The left is gaining in popular support but have so far failed to present a coherent program

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.

In more than 20 cities on Saturday, thousands of people hit the streets saying, we are all Greeks. The solidarity movement with Greece is spreading across Europe. And the famous resistance fighter, anti-Nazi resistance fighter, Manolis Glezos, came out and called on Greeks to unturn this rotten system.

Now joining us to talk about what’s going on in terms of oppositional politics in Greece, and to some extent Europe, is Costas Lapavitsas. He’s a professor in economics at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, and he teaches political economy of finance. Thanks for joining us again, Costas.

COSTAS LAPAVITSAS, ECONOMICS PROF., UNIV. OF LONDON: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

JAY: So, first of all, talk a little bit about the significance of Glezos. And is there emerging a united oppositional front of some kind?

LAPAVITSAS: Manolis Glezos is a living institution in Greece. You know, he’s probably 90 now, and all Greeks know him. He has a long and illustrious history of social struggles, struggle against occupation forces and so on. In a sense he embodies much of the Greek left and much of the spirit of the Greek people. So when Glezos takes certain initiatives and comes out with certain positions, you can rest assured that lots and lots of Greeks sit up and take notice or think that he speaks for them. So this is a very weighty voice. Notice, you know, he’s not in government, but this is a very weighty voice.

JAY: Now, he’s one of the—I guess he became well known during the Nazi occupation, where he ripped down a Nazi flag, and that became a sort of spark for resistance.

LAPAVITSAS: Well, yeah, I mean, that’s the story, and I’m sure it’s true. When Glezos was a young man at the time, together with a friend of his, who, sadly, died not so long ago, one of the first few days when the Nazi flag went up the Acropolis, the young men that they were, they decided to creep up and bring it down and put the Greek flag up, and they did that. And that is considered to be a great symbolic act of resistance, maybe the first symbolic act of resistance showing that the Greek people would not take Nazi occupation. And Glezos has become associated with that. It obviously took a lot of bravery to do that, because he wouldn’t have fared very well had he been arrested for having committed this act.

JAY: So talk about, then, what’s happening in terms of the oppositional politics. I don’t know whether Glezos is a unifying factor. But last time we discussed this in a previous interview, you were—you know, we were talking about that the opposition’s very fractured and a lot of sectarian, you know, struggles going on. Is that changing at all?

LAPAVITSAS: Not really. What has changed, what has become—what—actually hasn’t changed. The tendencies we could see two, three months ago are present and they’re becoming bigger. In other words, people are looking to the left. People are looking to the left for a solution. They’re not looking to the right. And I say this because, you know, it’s a commonly expressed fear in Europe and elsewhere that should something happen, should some break, some change happen, the Greeks will turn to the right and we will see the emergence of very conservative, even fascist forces. Of course, it’s possible. I do not wish to say that it’s not possible. But that’s not what we see. That’s not the dominant tendency that we observe. People are turning to the left. They wish to see a solution that comes from the left. And they’re putting their trust in the parties of the left collectively when you take them all together. All of them are benefiting, pretty much, in the Gallup polls, and substantially. I mean, it is possible that between 35 and 40 percent of the electorate right now would vote for parties of the left—not simply left of center, but of the left.

JAY: But if these parties are all on different pages and aren’t in some form of broad front, they’re not likely to actually take power.

LAPAVITSAS: The problem with these parties, in my view—and, you know, that’s just my view—is that they have failed to put across a coherent program to the Greek people about getting out of the crisis. Most of them are reluctant to discuss the euro. Their position on the debt is not as clear as it should have been. And debt and the euro, you see, are the two pivotal aspects of the crisis. Unless a clear political position is taken on these two issues, I don’t believe that you can form a persuasive program that you can put to the Greek people. Obviously, these parties talk about the profound transformation that Greek society needs, and in that sense they gain—they have resonance among the people and people turn to them. But in terms of resolving the immediate crisis, the thing that’s actually ruining people’s lives, they do not yet command sufficient confidence.

It’s a protest thing as much as anything else. People are protesting by turning to the left. They are not persuaded that the left has got a coherent program to take them out of this. If the left form the program, yes, then we could talk about power. The issue of power is now emerging in Greece, a profound shift of political and social power.

Maybe I can tell you a couple of things about this just to show you the extent of it. You see, Greece faces, clearly, an economic crisis. And it began as an economic crisis four years back, and it now is horrendous. That’s clear. But people must appreciate, people in the U.S. and elsewhere must appreciate that in a sense this was only the beginning: actually Greece now faces a multisided, multilayered, total crisis. It has to be appreciated.

Greece faces, you see, a social crisis, not only in the sense that there’s poverty and hunger—that’s clear—but in the deeper sense of not having a significant social presence that will lead the country to another future. The social layers that have run the country are bankrupt. They cannot plan another strategy.

Greece has a political crisis. The political parties are considered completely discredited by the Greek people.

Greece has also a problem of intellectual leadership. The intellectuals of the country have basically failed this. We’re two years into an incredibly deep crisis, and public debate on what to do from the intellectuals has been extremely weak, extremely weak.

Greece also faces, you see, a problem of values, and society knows it. Society feels that it has taken a bad path, that Greek people have lost traditional values, they’ve not replaced them with anything else. Society has become very individualistic, cynical, looking after number one. It’s lost values of solidarity, values of social support. People feel that very keenly, but they don’t know quite what to do about it. The left, any force, really, that wishes to take the country out of its predicament must provide answers across the board for all these problems. It’s a major, major task in front of political forces. It’s a task of basically restructuring the whole of society. That’s what we’ve got in front of us in Greece at the moment.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Costas.


JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Costas Lapavitsas is a professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London